stepping into the shaman’s path

And so the journey continues. I keep being drawn to the people and practices that can remind me what I already know, in my heart, but cannot yet fully grasp in my mind – not that it should really matter! That I am already one with everything. That I have all the answers I’m seeking. That everything is an illusion and truth at once. That to learn, and change, requires discipline. That once I can relinquish the idea that such discipline is uncomfortable, difficult and yes, even painful, (because it requires me to let go of patterns, behaviours and ideas that I’ve been ‘indoctrinated’ into by belief systems founded on creating molds), the practice of being, truly, will be easy. Because when I am in true connection with my soul, I will not be trying so hard. In fact I won’t be trying at all. I will just be…

Roel Fredrix

Dutch shaman and teacher Roel Fredrix has been visiting Athens on and off over the last year, running workshops on shamanic healing and the Medicine Wheel, via a course called the Inca Mastery of Life Training. I attended Fredrix’ workshop on Munay (heart energy) at Inner Flow Centre Athens and discovered lifetime techniques for empowering and healing the self and others. One exercise was centred on creating an energy drawn from the earth and from the heavens and concentrated within the heart, and then adding to that a profound sense of joy. It was amazing as I practiced sending this energy to a partner I worked on, as she talked about some of her most painful memories. As soon as she would get stuck in a sense of trauma and sadness I would send my joyful, loving heart energy to her and she would feel soothed and would move on. “The most serious thing of all, the Q’ero shamans say, is humour,” Fredrix told us, adding that when your heart is filled with laughter and joy it is at its strongest and most protected from outside energies.

Two days after the workshop I had the pleasure to interview Fredrix to delve deeper into who he is and his teachings.

Alexia Amvrazi: Who are you?
Roel Fredrix: Who am I? That’s a good question. Actually that’s what the whole journey is about. Who are we? Who am I? I can give you an answer on many levels. My name is Roel Fredrix. When I give an answer on the level of the mind I will tell you the stories of my past and my profession and what I have been doing in life, and that I am the father of three kids, and that I come from this part of Holland. That’s one identification on the level of the mind. But on my journey I discovered that I’m not that. Those are only roles that I play and identifications with stories in my mind. I’ve had quite some mystical experiences, and when you transcend the ego you find out that you are the process of life itself, and that what you call you is everything. It’s you, it’s us, it’s everything that is expressed as the divine. I’ve experienced myself as many things; I’ve had a lot of shape-shifting experiences. I’ve experienced myself as a volcano for example, or a star. When you have these kinds of experiences you realise that you can shape-shift into anything, and the experience comes from just a shift in awareness. So, it’ hard to say who I am (laughs). In the normal world I am just a man.

A shamanic mesa, which is like a medicine pouch or transportable altar.

AA: You say “just a shift in awareness” but for many people that is very challenging to achieve.
RF: Yes. It’s not “just” a shift in awareness… It can be a shift in one second that happens spontaneously, or it can be a shift that you need to work for intensively. But the only thing is that you have to remove something to reach it: your belief system, your mind, your programmes or ‘software’.

AA: What drew you to shamanism?
RF: In the beginning I wasn’t drawn to it at all. I was educated as a physical therapist in Holland and had my own practice. I was always interested in alternative medicine, since I was 16-17 years old I was studying about the paranormal, astrology, numerology, I had a dream diary as a child… but then I got into the medical training, and they program you with western, medical, scientific thinking, so that went away for a little while. Until I was around my 30s. First I had my sports career and I worked in the sports world and teaching about sports injuries and that kind of stuff. But there was a sudden change in my life – I was in the Dutch National Team of Ultimate Frisbee and I was playing in the world championships in Sweden and in the first game I broke a bone in my foot. This was after I’d been training very hard for a year to get in the team and make it there, and then it snapped. I had put everything in my life aside for that training!

AA: Did you feel you had subconsciously caused that accident for yourself?
RF: Yes, I think so, nothing is coincidental. I needed to stand still in life, and reflect on the path that I was going towards. So from that moment I decided I’m not going to do that again! 

As a physiotherapist I was using some alternative therapies in my practice -kinesiology using muscle testing. A rheumatologist was sending a lot of patients to me whom I couldn’t test because they had inflamed joints, so I was seeking a way to see into them via their subconscious through the layers of pain and trauma without muscle testing. I read and followed the practices related in Brandon Bays’ ‘The Journey’ but that required working on people who could use visualisation, and some people can’t.

So when I read about Soul Retrieval on the Four Winds Society website I thought “oh wow! In this way the shaman is going into the subconscious instead of the person himself.” I listened to Alberto Villoldo’s Soul Retrieval CD and then I checked if he was giving courses and he was giving courses in Holland! I immediately went to the course, and it felt very strangely familiar. It was like I’d been doing this for years. I started using it in my work, and from my first sessions I had great revelations and insights. For the people I was treating it was about getting traumatic experiences out of their system. But the message I kept receiving was “that’s not important my son – it’s much more important to show you this, or that, and to make great connections with guides.” It gave me really crazy experiences.

AA: So would you say that our said-trauma or pain is more like a prop, covering up other things that are there that need addressing?
RF: Yes definitely. It’s one of the ways that the ego holds us from experiencing our soul. And the more trauma you have experienced in your life, the louder the voices in your mind are. The sub-personalities, the archetypical voices in your mind, like the controller or the protector, or the fear or the perfectionist, all these impulses that give thought in the mind, are very loud if you have a lot of trauma.

AA: So they shut out even more the strength and peace that you have inside?
RF: Yes, and that’s what I like about the shamanic path. First, it’s growing roots. It’s first taking care of the wounded ego, so the ego voices get less. It turns down the ego, softens it, and so it gets much more quiet inside. To make space to hear the whispering of the soul. And as soon as you start to hear that, you know ‘ah, my life is not only about what’s going on in my head, my life is a journey of the soul.”

Fredrix with a participant during the Munay teachings workshop

AA: So it’s also a way of looking at pain or trauma in a positive way, would you say, because it’s your gateway directly to going into a higher state of being if you can resolve it…
RF: Yes, and almost all people come to the spiritual path because they are seeking something. They are seeking healing, love, happiness… So people always come to the path because they don’t have it – they don’t feel happy, lovable, or they don’t feel free in their lives. So they start looking for something.

AA: So since you started on your path as a shaman, how come you found yourself in Greece?
RF: That’s a nice story – I was on a website as a graduate of the Four Winds Society; there was a teaching company here in Greece,  and they were searching for someone to teach Munay-ki, which I was doing in Holland. They happened to pick my name from the website, where there were many other people listed, and asked me to teach here. The coincidence was that I was at that time looking for new ways to express myself. I wanted to go deeper and not only teach small workshops but offer a deeper education. Meanwhile, my secretary, who is also on this path and receives private sessions from me, one day during our session said she had a dream she needed to tell me about – she told me she had dreamed of my father, who has passed away, and that he said ‘I am helping you to work abroad’!

What is the most important aspect of your teachings? 
Once you step into your soul’s path and recognise that you are not an ego you can create a re-identification, realising that you are not your stories. You realise that you are on a journey to express divinity in its highest form, so you grow into mastery, that’s why my course is called Mastery of Life Training. To master your energy, your wounds, your mind, your emotions, to master your love, your wisdom and your power. And as you move to the last step, it offers you opportunities to awaken to who  you really are, and to set your own vision of how you want to bring that awakening into the world. What is your highest vision of expressing yourself? What do you want to give to the world? Because in the beginning the wounded ego only wants to take. At the end you identify with everything and you want to give, because you know that in the giving you are giving to yourself.

INFO:
In JUNE 2018, Roel Fredrix will be teaching the South Direction of the Medicine Wheel in two long, intensive weekends (1-3 June & 8-10 June) as part of his Mastery of Life Training in Athens. For more information contact Roel Fredrix at: roelfredrix@gmail.com

greece’s modern father of homeopathy

Last stop on the ferry line heading into the sunset from Volos off towards the Northern Sporades islands lays Alonissos, an unspoilt, pine-cloaked island. This unique destination chiefly draws visitors who come to swim in its clean emerald waters, dine on langoustines, walk on its many forest paths and visit the rare Mediterranean Monk seal, at the National Marine Park as it’s one of the few remaining habitats of this endangered species.  

Alonissos is home to the beautiful National Marine Park where the Monachus Monachus monk seals live

Alonissos attracts a regular gathering of multicultural visitors for a completely different reason too: as we drove around the Milia area five kilometres from the port town of Patitiri, we were intrigued by the stream of atypical tourists walking along the sides of the road with great purpose in the midday sun. There were women clad in a saris, east Asian ladies holding paper sun umbrellas, northern Europeans dressed quite formally rather that the usual T-shirt and shorts. Soon the mystery was solved when we discovered that these small groups were in fact all doctors who come the island to attend courses at the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy. Yes, it turned out that apart from seals, delectable dinners and lush nature, Alonissos is also home to the only institution in the world that’s dedicated exclusively to the teaching of Homeopathic Medicine.

Doctors from around the world attending Dr Vithoulkas’ Homeopathy Academy course      

The Academy is directed by the multi-awarded and highly recognised Professor George Vithoulkas, and opened its doors in the early 1990s. We had heard about the internationally acclaimed Greek homeopath and the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award) he was honoured with in 1996 ‘for upgrading Classical Homeopathy to the standard of a science’, and being fans of complementary medicines we rushed to visit the Academy and ask for an appointment with the professor himself.

Professor George Vithoulkas at his desk in the Academy of Homeopathy on Alonissos

Mind you, it wasn’t easy, as the professor is extremely busy year round. Apart from his courses and seminars, which take place at the Academy as well as online, he also writes books and records lectures that go to universities far and wide in the world. In the past the professor would travel to the universities where he taught, but he now prefers to remain more settled on his beloved island of Alonissos, where lives year-round, apart from attending important international conferences where he is regularly invited to talk.

The illustrious homeopath is a real legend on the island, where everyone speaks of him with awe and respect, and his reputation transmits to medical communities and not only, worldwide. He was a major protagonist in the resurgence of classical homeopathy after WWII, and continues to strive for the better understanding, use and acceptance of homeopathy in our modern age.

After applying for an interview with the professor by fax, we decided to visit the large stone Academy building and peruse its lovely tranquil grounds and the reference library, where one can buy some of Vithoulka’s most famous books such as ‘The Science of Homeopathy’, ‘Materia Medica Viva’, ‘Classic Homeopathy for Anxiety and Jealousy’, ‘A new Model For Health and Disease’ and ‘Homeopathy – Medicine for the New Millenium’ in Greek and in English. It was there that we had the great luck to bump into the Professor himself and introduce ourselves in person. He was friendly and accommodating, and agreed to an interview, which is something he rarely does because of his lack of free time. He offered us plenty of additional background material for our research, showing his no-nonsense efficiency and professionalism, and kindly invited us to visit him at his organic farm villa a couple of days later.

When we arrived at the picturesque location, set away from the road on a hillside covered by pine forests, we were most fascinated to see a red electric car parked in the driveway, and Professor Vithoulkas told us how he had been offered this vehicle as a gift by a German doctor at an international conference. This is only one example of the devotion shown to him by his students and colleagues; the entire, very elegant lecture theatre at the Academy was a gift from a Greek heart surgeon. The car, just like his very home, which is surrounded by olive, plum and apricot trees loaded with plump fruits, sheep grazing the nearby fields, turkeys making a commotion and the deep blue sea sparkling in the background, truly represents his life philosophy of living with awareness and esteem towards the environment, the society, as well as oneself. Nibbling on a plate of freshly-picked apricots, we comfortably began our conversation.

IMVTY: What brought you Alonissos?

GV: I came here in the late sixties to seek out a man whom I had been told was very wise. I found him and we talked; he asked me what I did, and I thought to myself oh here I go again, I will have to explain what homeopathy is to a shepherd, but as soon as I told him he looked at me and gave me an excellent definition, in fact I think it was the precise definition that is in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It turned out that this shepard was extremely knowledgeable, he probably had a photographic memory, but he was not particularly wise.  On the bright side I really liked Alonissos, so I eventually bought this land and have gradually made it my home.

Do you live here all year round?

GV: Yes for a long time now, I used to travel a great deal all round the world you know, teaching and lecturing and currently I am a professor at the Kiev Medical Academy, Medical Faculty of the Basque University in Spain, and the University of Medicine in Moscow, but I do not travel much any more so I do my courses by video mostly. But this has been my base for years, and we therefore built the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy here on Alonissos.

You teach only qualified medical doctors and dentists at your school. Why is that?

GV: Yes.  My aim is to provide these official health specialists and practitioners with a very powerful tool with which to combat or prevent disease and to help their patients get well……. and homeopathy is very difficult to learn, even more so than medicine.  With the growth of homeopathy as a successful method, people are no longer suspicious about it; however there are many charlatan practitioners and teachers who are appearing to fill a need since there are too few properly qualified homeopaths… It is my strong belief that homeopathy’s eventual downfall could occur mainly due to a number of “creative distortions” that are injected into the main body of knowledge by the “imagination” and “projections” of some “modern teachers’ of homeopathy.

Since many of our students are receptive to such myths and stories concocted by flights of wild imagination, many so-called teachers have risen to fill this gap. Believe it or not, there is a Berlin Wall remedy! And some teach that if you look like an animal you need an animal-based remedy; others go so far as to think that if you write the potency and name of the remedy on the bottle, it instills the given attributes (he chuckles in disbelief). After many years of work we have finally managed to create a Postgraduate Degree for medical students to learn homeopathy in the University of the Aegean, based in Syros.

But do you believe that only qualified doctors should be able to learn and practice homeopathy?

GV: No not at all, although this is my policy. I believe that after proper 4-5 year training in a good homeopathy school, any qualified individual may practice.

 

Although millions of people swear by it, there is no scientific evidence proving that homeopathy works.

In your opinion, what lies behind the British Medical Association’s claim in England in 2010 that homeopathy should be cut from the National Health Service, since it is an unproven science?
GV: As I mentioned earlier there are unfortunately some practitioners who are not properly qualified and also some who make claims that are just not based on reality, for instance – that homeopathy can be used as a form of vaccine for epidemic – which is simply not true as every individual needs a different homeopathic remedy specific to their case. So these claims bring the entire practice into dispute.

That’s one of the reasons; the other is that homeopathy is becoming the medicine of the new millennium, so doctors and especially pharmaceutical companies (with multimillion dollar profits) are feeling very threatened (homeopathy is non-chemical and inexpensive), so this is why they attack homeopathy. It is not coincidental to note, however, that countless medical doctors who were asked to examine the principles and effectiveness of homeopathy, on seeing the results and learning more, have become staunch supporters of this method.

What is your main advice for healthy living?

GV: Basically it revolves around one word – cleanliness. Your conscience is the most important thing to keep clean, but so are the body and mind. Health in the physical body is freedom from pain.  But if you don’t have pain is that health? No, you need something else in order to say somebody is healthy – and that is having well being as a general state. But many mentally ill individuals can have strong bodies – a lot of energy, so therefore the definition has to also address the psyche (the emotional part).

Thus, “healthy people” are those who are not overtaken by any passion – the concept of pathos is based on that idea which overtakes and makes a slave the soul (our emotional part). If you are living in the serene state, with freedom from passion, in a state of calm, that is a dynamic state. I feel that I enjoy that state but I do not become a slave to anything.

And this leads to the soul – the soul has to be free from selfishness, from ego.  Once you achieve this there is an inner click and you enter the world of ideas. The ideas of a selfless man help humanity, while the ideas of a selfish man destroy others. Even in disease there can be harmony. I believe this is the ideal to work towards.

A healthy individual is one who is creative, with a double purpose, firstly to help himself, but at the same time being creative and giving to the society, and this the society is equally benefited by what has been created.

Meeting Professor Vithoulkas was indeed a pleasure, for we felt that we discovered the man behind the big name – an individual who has dedicated a 45 year career in which he has personally treated over 170 thousand patients, many of them prominent personalities from the fields of culture and politics throughout the world, such as Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, whose side he stood by for many years as his personal homeopath, and former Greek premier Andreas Papandreou).

Above all, as he confirmed to us himself in our discussion, his life has been about a challenging and important mission, to reverse thinking processes that prefer the use of pharmaceuticals over treating the individual holistically, to educate not only the elite but also the masses about the power of nature – and of man himself – to heal, as a process that involves the mind, body and spirit, and to offer, as he put it, “powerful tools” to those who have the position, expertise, clarity of intention and intelligence to use them effectively. Such is a mission that requires serious responsibility and commitment, but also reveals a larger, more valiant hope for humankind.

Interview by Adrian Vrettos and Alexia Amvrazi
As first published in www.greektravel.com

needling age out with acupuncture

“Cosmetic acupuncture actually renews the skin’s cellular structure from the inside, as well as reactivating and toning facial muscles. Meanwhile, it’s benefitting the whole body.”

Is it really better than Botox? 

It’s true what they say, that you wake up one fine morning and, standing before the bathroom mirror brushing your teeth and thinking about the day ahead, you freeze at the dreadful sight of a new wrinkle on your face. Where the heck did it come from? Why did it have to set up its permanent residence on your goddamned face? Clearly it loves company, because over the last year or so the wrinkle society have been showing a great love for your facial landscape.

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“The way you sleep definitely affects how your face looks,” acupuncturist and Shiatsu therapist Ilaira Bouratinos, who owns and teaches at the Oriental Medicine Centre in Athens tells me. If you sleep on your side, your face will actually become lop-sided. If you squash your face onto the pillow, there’s more chance of developing wrinkles. The ideal is to sleep on your back.” But, she adds, there’s so much more to it than that. “You seem to frown a lot while you talk – there! You’re doing it again!” That’s true, I even frown if I’m talking about ice cream, great sex or summer holidays. I smooth out the frown with my fingers and send relaxation vibes to my forehead, where the unfathomably deep Gorge of Obscure Perplexity has developed between above my left eye over the years. “That’s better,” she smiles – momentarily. “Hey! You’re frowning again! Stop it!”

On a far deeper level, Bouratinos informs me, according to Eastern medicine, which addresses the body from a holistic approach and sustains that the body is made up of meridians, or energy lines, the diet you eat, the lifestyle you live, the way you process your thoughts and feelings, how much sleep and rest you get, your habits, the amount of activity you engage in every day, the amount of sun and water and fresh air you get, all add up how your face will turn out. “The face has numerous acupoints, just as the body does, which via the meridians connect to all of the body’s organs and internal functions,” she tells me, “and similarly, according to an Eastern medical theory, the appearance of your face reveals a lot about your inner health. A Chinese medical practitioner will understand that dark circles under the eyes, pale or sagging skin, wrinkles in particular places, dull eyes, redness and other features relate to specific health conditions.”

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Bouratinos is telling me all these interesting things whilst inserting extremely fine, small needles into my face, as part of our Cosmetic Acupuncture session. I am lying in her tranquil treatment room, which today is infused with the aroma of lavender and rose oils, as she inserts needle after needle into my forehead, cheeks, chin, temples… Some of them hurt, (she tells me pain is a good sign of reactivating energy in an area that had gathered hard layers of dead skin, such as scar tissue, which can cause blocks in the flow of energy). Mostly it’s like a tiny prick. Sometimes I don’t feel it at all. “Ouch!” I exclaim, reminding myself that it’s all in the name of beauty and that I have put myself through much worse over the years. Dancing in spiky high heels? Check. Waxing? Check. Wearing a corset that should never have left the 17th Century? Check. Let’s just stop right there before it gets too embarrassing.

I wouldn’t consider myself vain (ok, maybe a little), but I have passed the four-O (aka furrow) line and I do still have decent enough eyesight to see the ongoing, obvious changes in my appearance (oh how we take ourself for granted!). Several of my also seeing girlfriends have felt so unhappy with the lines and turkey neck et al they have ventured towards the needle (Botox not heroine) and become devout to fillers and freezers and whatever else they are called. I have thought about it a lot, and felt very tempted. But I have refrained because aren’t we all bombarded by images of very wealthy, successful women who have turned to plastic surgery and, despite how good a doctor they can afford, end up looking like alien plastic ducks?

two_3272Above all, my entire life philosophy veers me towards holistic choices, as I tell Bouratinos. “Apart from the fact that it’s a natural treatment that doesn’t involve injecting chemicals and toxins into your organism, and that it doesn’t cause long-term damage like repeated use of Botox does, aesthetic acupuncture stimulates collagen production and actually renews the skin’s cellular structure from the inside, as well as reactivating and toning facial muscles. Meanwhile, it’s benefitting the whole body,” she says. Unlike the mask-like effects of cosmetic surgery, aesthetic acupuncture brightens the eyes, clears the mind, improves sleep quality, lifts your body’s energy levels and helps rebalance your metabolism!

After Bouratinos had placed all the needles (around 40 of them!) into my skin, I rested for around half an hour. She removed them quickly and painlessly and then massaged my skin with tiny soft suction cups and manual massage with lavender and chamomile essences. The immediate result was that I looked like I’d had a deep sleep (something I don’t get much of as the mother of a toddler) from which I’ woken up a few years younger – my skin was glowy, rosy and relaxed. I had to wait a few days before being able to see the deeper results – nothing that my mean-spirited eye could see much of but that friends, colleagues and even my partner pointed out to me without knowing I had done anything. “What have you done?” one colleague asked, “did you change your hair?”

I just enjoyed smiling to myself (I might as well hold on to a fun secret on the rare occasion that I have one).

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I had two more sessions with Bouratinos, spaced over the next two months, mainly due to my own time constraints. Apparently the ideal is to go for a weekly session at least for three to five weeks to see bigger, faster and more long-lasting results. But seeing my skin tone improve dramatically (I happily re-encountered my skin from a decade before), my eyes brighten, my cheeks lift significantly, and my jawline tighten was an amazing experience, and a very interesting one too.

Apart from the thrill of seeing my more youthful self emerge (I, young you, was always here, grasshopper, just hidden away under layers of your outward ageing!), I did actually feel more energised, had better sleep and felt more balanced overall.

The effects are expected to last for around six months to a year, especially if you have a session every month or every few months and look after yourself better in terms of how you eat, exercise and sleep, and care for the skin  – all things I was definitely inspired to do more of from now on.

Bouratinos also runs workshops every few months in which she teaches, within the space of an afternoon, how you can massage and exercise your own face for 5 minutes a day to drastically improve, reduce or prevent facial sagging and wrinkles.
Check out www.omcentre.gr and www.ilaira.com to book your cosmetic acuptuncture session and find out about facial toning workshops.

ilaira
Bouratinos is an awarded Shiatsu and Acupuncture practitioner and teacher.

 

 

 

ancient to modern: greek plant medicine

“If only we continue to examine the practices, writings and teachings of ancient Greek physicians and pharmacists, our knowledge can leap ahead by at least 6000 years. But if we prove indifferent to the vast knowledge of the ancients, we will stay behind by 3,500 years,” says pharmacologist Dimitris Kallimanis, whose passionate life mission is to investigate, experiment with and teach about plants and the plethora of sophisticated and fascinating data related to their hundreds of species.

The expert, who sustains that what today is commonly described as “folk medicine, or natural remedies” based on plants is no less than a serious, noteworthy science, states that according to historical documents, the first person to analytically expound on the benefits and uses of herbs was the epic poet Homer (born circa 850BC, although his exact period of existence remains a mystery to scholars). Kallimanis reveals that his globally influential writings such as ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ are packed with recipes and practices based on herbs: “from Homer we learned, for example, that Achilles used Achillea millefollium – a hemostatic, wound-healing and powerfully antiseptic agent that is still used today – to treat those who fought by his side, or that the family of herbs most favored by the ancient Greeks was Liliaceae.”

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Homer’s The Odyssey

According to history, Theofrastus (372-287 BC), Aristotle’s successor at Athens’ Peripatetic School, was ancient Greece’s “father of botany.” Among a plethora of writings, he is the author of the major botanical treatises ‘Enquiry into Plants’ and ‘On the Causes of Plants’. Kallimanis and many other experts of his caliber sustain that the doctor and apothecary Dioscorides (40-90AD) was the real father of botany.

materiaHis five-volume work ‘De Materia Medica‘, was translated into Arabic and Latin in the 12th and 13th C and in German, Spanish, French, Italian and finally English after the 16th C), emerging as the basis of the world’s botanical knowledge. Indeed, the knowledge of Dioscorides, who followed a holistic and allopathic doctrine reminiscent to that practiced by Hippocrates, continues to startle academics to this day: it was he who first created the systematic categorization of some 500 plants and around 1000 of their medical uses, their varying dosages for treating ailments, and their side effects.

“However, there is a vast time gap between the botanical teachings of Homer and those of Dioscorides,” Kallimanis notes, “and the individual who played a great role in spreading knowledge on herbs within that time is somewhat unexpected; enter one of Greece’s most legendary figures in poetry, drama and creative thought – Aristophanes!” tragiccomicmaskshadriansvillamosaic
In an era when it was widely feared that Greece and its influence would be obliterated by the Peloponnesian War, the bard (444 – 385 BC) cunningly managed to share precious information with the masses. He subtly weaved substantial quarantines of knowledge through the words recited in his highly popular comedies, making one of the lines recited by the chorus in his play, ‘The Babylonians’, especially poignant, when they say that “the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all.” Kallimanis explains that through both simple terms for the common-folk to coded, more refined information directed at educated viewers, all within the same text, Aristophanes managed to distribute ancient recipes based on herbal medicine to the greater public. Kallimanis says that doing so he “ignited and bolstered the knowledge of common people and all levels of medical practitioners, even some of the information remains challenging to decode to this day.”

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Monks weighing herbs

Throughout the ages, the information and understanding of botanical medicine and its usage garnered from the ancient world was made accessible to the literate via Greek and translated documents that could be found mainly in monasteries, especially those on the Holy Peninsula of Mount Athos. The uneducated, however, spread knowledge verbally, with villagers across Greece developing and transferring further learning and expertise to their communities by combining proven theories and techniques and hands-on experimentation. Making the best of nature’s bounty developed from the profoundly pragmatic need to survive, as throughout the centuries villagers were left to their own devices when it came to individual and community’s healthcare. The main priority in using herbs and plants throughout rural Greece was, and remains, the need to systematically and effectively treat physical and spiritual ailments, from the common headache, melancholy and respiratory disorders to broken bones, madness and heart disease. Meanwhile on the dark side, herbs have also played a significant role in magic and superstitious rituals for breaking spells, clearing the cloying effects of the evil eye and other psychic ‘disorders’.

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Magicians and faith healers carved out a niche for themselves among frightened, mainly uneducated individuals, often over-exceeding dosages and invoking divine powers or satanic entities to bring them into contact with other worlds, and to generate intensely hallucinogenic effects” Kallimanis says, adding that “their favorite plants were mainly those from the Solanacaeae (or nightshade) family, such as poisonous Belladonna and hallucinogenic Mandrake, some of which are highly toxic and can have serious or even deadly results. “Today, these magicians would be able to teach us about a whole host of other-worldly experiences, and we could call them magician-physicians – however, they didn’t have the ethics of a doctor or pharmacist, so I certainly wouldn’t call them that myself.”

* Many thanks to Dimitris Kallimanis, whose Greek-language book ‘Natural Cosmetics and Therapies from Ancient Greece and the Byzantium until the Present Day’ (Afoi Kyriakidi) on the bookstands as of November 2016.

                                                                As first published in Greece Is

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